By: Rick Wolcott, East Ohio Conference
Members of delegations to the Special Session of General Conference from across the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) gathered at Wespath Benefits and Investments in Glenview, Illinois September 21-22 for learning, small group discussion, worship, and fellowship. The gathering was sponsored by the NCJ College of Bishops and the NCJ Mission Council, which is responsible for funding decisions and budget allocations to programs in the jurisdiction.
“The goal really was conversations and the building of relationships,” said Bishop David Bard, president of the NCJ College of Bishops and resident bishop of the Michigan Conference.
Delegates heard presentations about each of the three plans proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward: the “One Church Plan” that’s recommended by the Council of Bishops, the “Connectional Conference Plan,” and the “Traditionalist Plan.” There was time dedicated for delegates to think and talk about how the plans may play out in their contexts, and for conversation around the question “What is good for the whole church?”
Members of the Minnesota delegation who attended are Revs. Judy Zabel, Carol Zaagsma, and Woojae Im, and lay person Dave Nuckols (also a member of the Commission on a Way Forward). Revs. Matt Sipe and Tyler Sit serve on the Mission Council and were also present.
Zaagsma, a first reserve delegate, noted that we work in a diverse jurisdiction with many points of view. She said this heightened the need for delegates to come together and see each other as people.
“Talking with people illuminated the heart behind where they stand,” she said. “It’s important work to engage in the conversation and see people as beloved children of God.”
More than anything, Zaagsma is hopeful that delegates will be open to the Holy Spirit as they complete their work.
“I walk away from this gathering recognizing that God is certainly bigger than what’s before us,” she said. “I want to stand in a place of faith, trusting in that.”
Lay delegate Allen Laferty, chairperson of the East Ohio Conference delegation, said he also walked away from the gathering feeling positive about the future.
“My expectations were pretty low for this but I’ve come away with a great sense of hope,” he said. “Meeting with other delegates from other conferences, there’s a good spirit that the church is going to move forward some way or somehow and these plans, or whatever it is that is decided at the Special Session, will make us a stronger church.”
“We accomplished the goal of bringing people together in a heart of peace,” said Bishop Julius C. Trimble, resident bishop of the Indiana Conference.
As delegates prepare for the Special Session of General Conference, there is a lot to consider.
“We hope that as we are making the decisions that are before us in February that we’ll be mindful of all of our churches and all of their mission and ministry,” said Phil Carver, lead lay delegate from the Iowa Conference. “I think there is certainly a common spirit here this week that we want to do all we can to maximize the church’s presence throughout the world.”
Bard reminds all laity and clergy of The United Methodist Church that they have vital roles to play in the lead-up to the Special Session of General Conference to be held in St. Louis, Missouri February 23-26, 2019.
“I hope they will be praying for their delegations,” he said. “I hope they will pay attention to what is happening and learn about the plans and be in conversations with their delegations. But I hope they don’t get so caught up in it that they forget being about the ministry of the church—that work of making disciples to transform the world, feeding the hungry, caring for people. We don’t ever want what’s happening at a denominational level to be an impediment to our being in ministry.”
*Minnesota Conference Director of Communications Christa Meland and Iowa Conference Director of Communications Rev. Dr. Art McClanahan contributed to this article.
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